Foreground aquarium plants directly influence the impression of an aquascape. So the selection and planting of foreground aquatic plants are very important to build a beautiful planted aquarium.

All carpet plants are ideal for the foreground. If you are finding plants to build a beautiful carpet, check the list of over fifteen carpet plants for planted aquariums. This article mentions only a few carpet plants and other short plants which are rarely used to form a carpet.

How to select aquarium plants for the foreground?

foreground aquarium plants

There are various types of aquarium plants, but not many of them are suitable for the foreground. You need to know which plants can be used as foreground plants and learn their characteristics. The foreground plants support the attractive appearance of the bottom layer of the aquarium. They must be planted and maintained neatly, or the entire aquascape would look untidy.

One of the factors to be considered in the selection of foreground plants is the plant height. This is because the plant height will determine how much composition materials such as driftwood and stone will be hidden behind the plants. Short plants are usually chosen as foreground plants to not hide the details of stone and driftwood arrangement. On the other hand, tall plants are usually selected as background plants which are placed in backward of the aquascape. The tall plants are also used to conceal the details of composition material.

An additional factor for the selection of plants is the image produced by each plant. Hair grass (Eleochalis acicularis) produces an image of a field of soft grasses while Glossostigma planted as a single species adds a neat and orderly touch to the aquascape.

hairgrass-eleochalis-acicularis

Hair grass (Eleochalis acicularis) produces an image of a field of soft grasses

glossostigma-elatinoides

Glossostigma elatinoides adds a neat and orderly touch to the aquascape

Aquarium plants for the foreground

1. Red dwarf Hygrophila – Hygrophila ‘Araguaia’

hygrophila-araguaia

  • Usage: carpet, foreground
  • Difficulty: medium
  • Growth: medium
  • Height: 4 – 8+ inches (10 – 20+ cm)
  • Lighting: medium
  • CO2: medium

This is one of the few available red aquarium plants for the foreground. Soon after they are submerged in the aquarium, needle-shaped leaves with the colors from reddish brown to purple. It is slow growing and needs well fertilized substrate to promote growth.

2. Chain Sword – Echinodorus quadricostatus

echinodorus-quadricostatus

CC 3.0, Tommy Kronkvist

  • Synonym: Helanthium bolivianum ‘Quadricostatus’, Helanthium quadricostatus
  • Common name: chain sword
  • Usages: high carpet, foreground, midground
  • Difficulty: easy
  • Growth: fast
  • Height: 4 – 6+ inches (10 – 15+ cm)
  • Lighting: low
  • CO2 : low

This is a very easy to care plant for the foreground. You can grow it as small bushes in the foreground or a dense carpet in a large aquarium. It propagates very fast by runners which will soon spread over the substrate in convenient conditions. Because of its bright green leaves, Chain Sword stands out from other darker aquarium plants making it an accent in the foreground.

3. Staurogyne repens

Staurogyne repensStaurogyne repens

  • Usage: carpet, foreground, midground
  • Difficulty: easy
  • Growth: medium
  • Height: 1.2 – 4+ inches (3 – 10+ cm)
  • Lighting: low
  • CO2: low

Staurogyne repens belongs to the family Acanthaceae and is closely related to Hygrophila. This plant has a hard stem and the leaves resembling those of Hygrophila but in a more compact size. Because of its vigorous creeping habit, this medium growing plant can be easily maintained at a short height. With these features, this plant is suited for planting at the side of driftwood and stones in spots.

4. Whorled marsh pennywort – Hydrocotyle verticillata

Whorled marsh pennywortWhorled marsh pennywort

  • Common names: whorled umbrella plant, whorled marsh pennywort
  • Usage: carpet, foreground
  • Difficulty: advanced
  • Type: stem
  • Growth: medium
  • Height: 1.2 – 4+ inches (3 – 10+ cm)
  • Lighting: high
  • CO2: medium

Lovely foreground plant and definitely the only species with umbrella-like leaves suitable to grow submerged. If illuminated brightly, numerous lid-like leaves are produced in several layers. It will grow to about one and half inches in height but will be taller and stringy under poor light. It is slow growing and very easy to control. Do not keep in aquariums with vigorous fish as the shoots do not root very deeply in the substrate.

5. Downoi – Pogostemon helferi

Pogostemon helferiPogostemon helferi

  • Usage: high carpet, foreground, midground
  • Difficulty: medium
  • Type: stem
  • Growth: medium
  • Height: 1.2 – 4+ inches (3 – 10+ cm)
  • Lighting: medium
  • CO2: medium

Downoi (Pogostemon helferi) is a very suitable foreground plant. By virtue of its crinkled leaves, it forms a lovely contrast to other foreground species. Planted aquariums are inconceivable without Pogostemon helferi. It is a fast growing plant that spreads easily by forming offshoots that can be planted to become independent plants. It is sometimes planted 1.2 – 2 inches apart to form a thick carpet. Pogostemon helferi is attractive to some plant eating fish so choose your fish carefully if you want this plant to flourish.

6. River Buttercup – Ranunculus inundatus

River ButtercupRiver Buttercup

  • Synonym: Ranunculus papulentus
  • Common names: river buttercup
  • Usage: foreground, midground
  • Difficulty: medium
  • Type: none
  • Growth: medium
  • Height: 2+ inches (5+ cm)
  • Lighting: medium
  • CO2: medium

River Buttercup is a beautiful plant with deeply forked leaves for the foreground-aquarium. Under ample light and plenty of CO2, this plant will stay nice and low. River Buttercup propagates by sending many vertical runners with new plants over the substrate.

7. Crystalwort – Riccia fluitans

RicciaRiccia

  • Common names: Crystalwort, Riccia
  • Usage: carpet, foreground, midground, floating
  • Difficulty: medium
  • Type: moss
  • Growth: medium
  • Height: 1.2 – 2+ inches (3 – 5+ cm)
  • Lighting: medium
  • CO2: medium

Riccia is a floating liverwort but it can be submerged to make an attractive foreground plant. It looks like a bush composed of elongated green strips. Each branch gets longer and then separates into several smaller branches.

Like other aquatic mosses, this moss can be wrapped around stones or driftwood with fishing line to make it submerged and fixed in place. If weighed down, it can be made to grow as cushions on the substrate, giving a beautiful effect. It is a useful plants for breeding tank because it provides splendid shelter for baby fish.

8. Alternanthera reineckii ‘Mini’

Alternanthera reineckii 'Mini'Alternanthera reineckii 'Mini'

  • Usage: carpet, foreground, midground
  • Difficulty: medium
  • Growth: medium
  • Height: 2 – 4+ inches (5 – 10+ cm)
  • Lighting: medium
  • CO2: medium

Alternanthera species are well-known with their red to violet leaves and this is a miniature version of this family that you can use for the foreground. The plant needs high light and medium CO2 supply to flourish and develop vigorous red leaves. It is most beautiful when placed this plant in small groups of several bushes in the fore- to midground. If you want a red-violet carpet with Alternanthera reineckii ‘Mini’, careful trimming is required to maintain the plant in 2 – 4 inch height.

9. Marimo moss ball – Cladophora aegagropila

Marimo moss ballMarimo moss ball

  • Usage: carpet, foreground, nano tanks
  • Difficulty: easy
  • Growth: slow
  • Height: 1.2 – 4+ inches (3 – 10+ cm)
  • Lighting: low
  • CO2: low

These cute moss balls are not really a plant, they are clusters of filamentous green algae that is naturally found in many lakes in Japan, Russia, Iceland, United Kingdom, and Northern Europe. The water currents in the lakes keep them continuously move, and thus forming the ball shape. So, they need to be turned regularly to keep the spherical shape when kept in aquarium environments.

10. Banana plant – Nymphoides aquatica

  • Usage: foreground, nano tanks
  • Difficulty: medium
  • Growth: medium
  • Height: 6+ inches (15+ cm)
  • Lighting: medium
  • CO2: medium

Banana plant is a unique-looking plant with its attractive banana shaped tubers, which make beautiful accents for the foreground. Unlike other Nymphaeas, this plant does not have the tendency form floating leaves. The “bananas” should not be planted into the substrate. Weight down the plant until it has formed some roots. Brightly illumination is required for the healthy growth.

11. Eriocaulon cinereum

eriocaulon-cinereum

  • Usage: foreground, nano tank
  • Difficulty: advanced
  • Growth: slow
  • Height: 1.2 – 4+ inches (3 – 10+ cm)
  • Lighting: high
  • CO2: high

This is a very architectural plant which produces a dense rosette of narrow, bright green leaves. It is a slow grower, even under suitable conditions such as bright lights and soft water, making it an ideal choice for nano tanks and the foreground of most planted aquariums.

You should trim away any flower stalks and dead leaves prior to planting. Cut the roots to a length of about 1 inch and then plant carefully by pulling the roots into the gravel with fine tweezers.

12. Micro Sword – Lilaeopsis brasiliensis

Micro SwordMicro Sword

  • Usage: carpet, foreground
  • Difficulty: easy
  • Growth: slow
  • Height: 1.2 – 2+ inches (3 – 5+ cm)
  • Lighting: medium
  • CO2: medium

Micro Sword is an easy to keep, grassy foreground plant. This plant is very slow growing and the initial density of planting has a significant impact on its subsequent appearance. It is usually used to create a green grass-like carpet in planted aquariums. Micro Sword also lives well in brackish aquariums with low salt concentrations and garden ponds.

13. American Shoreweed – Littorella uniflora

littorella-uniflora

  • Usage: foreground, nano tanks
  • Difficulty: easy
  • Growth: slow
  • Height: 1.2 – 2+ inches (3 – 5+ cm)
  • Lighting: low
  • CO2: low

Slow growing plant which should not be kept too warm. Too nutrient-rich water should also be avoided. Due to its spiky habit, it is a very interesting accent for nano aquariums. Once settled in, it will eventually produce thin runners with adventitious plantlets.

14. Dwarf Cardinal plant – Lobelia cardinalis

Cardinal plantCardinal plant

  • Usage: carpet, foreground, midground
  • Difficulty: easy
  • Growth: medium
  • Height: 8 – 12+ inches (20 – 30+ cm)
  • Lighting: low
  • CO2: low

Lobelia cardinalis is one the most popular plants for planted aquariums as it is easy to keep, can be trimmed indefinitely and will last forever. Moreover, this plant will form a lovely, smooth and leafy surface if maintained properly and is thus an ideal plant for planted aquariums.

15. Pearlweed – Hemianthus micranthemoides

PearlweedPearlweed

  • Synonym: Micranthemum micranthemoides
  • Common names: pearlweed, pearl grass, baby tears
  • Usage: high carpet, foreground, midground
  • Difficulty: advanced
  • Growth: medium
  • Height: 2 – 6+ inches (5 – 15+ cm)
  • Lighting: medium
  • CO2: medium

Depending on the size of your planted tank, this plant can be a great addition to the mid- to foreground. Pearlweed is sometimes used for carpeting the foreground of large planted aquariums above 55 gallons. Having several compact bushes of Pearlweed in the midground is very beautiful and attractive, too. It has a good tolerance to trimming and the shape of its clump can be arranged easily by trimming.

How to plant the foreground?

1. Dividing into small bunches

dividing-foreground-plants-into-small-bunches

As a part of preparation, foreground plants are divided into small bunches that are easy to hold with tweezers and then placed on a tray. Plants like Glossostigma must be as short as about 3 cm. It is advisable to align the base position of these bunches to facilitate the planting work.

2. Start planting from the sides of stones and drift­wood

planting-carpet-aquarium-plant

If you cannot use plenty of plants due to budget constraints, it is recommended to start planting from the sides of the composition materials towards the front of the aquarium. It is also important to fill the planting area evenly with plants.

3. Adjusting the water to the level where the substrate is barely submerged

Adjusting the water to the level where the substrate is barely submerged

Foreground plants are small and difficult to plant. The key to easy planting of such plants is pre­-planting preparation and adjusting the water level during the planting process. The number of plants to be planted initially should be determined by taking the plant’s growth rate into consideration.

Planting work will be easier if the water is poured to a level where the substrate is barely covered with water. Long tweezers with pointed tips are ideal tools for the planting of foreground plants.

4. Adjusting the plant density according to the growth rate

adjust-the-plant-density-according-to-the-growth-rate

Fast-growing plants should be planted with wider intervals while slow-growing plants should be densely planted with smaller intervals. The initial dense planting is vital for plants such as Hemianthus callitrichoides “Cuba” and Lilaeopsis brasiliensis. Ensuring a good balance with background plants is also important. If fast-growing stem plants are the main plant of the layout, the foreground should be more densely planted.

1. Fast-growing foreground plants such as Glossostigma will cover the entire space very fast even with wider intervals. Planting density should be adjusted according to the growth rate at each location of the layout.

2. Slow-growing foreground plants such as Lilaeopsis brasiliensis should be planted as densely as possible from the beginning as it takes time for them to cover the substrate. Achieving a dense planting of foreground plants at the early stage can prevent algal growth.

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